I became aquatinted first hand with the work of Hal Foster after reading his essay in Junkspace / Running Room, a publication he coauthored with Rem Koolhaas in 2013. This, however, was certainly not the first I had heard of him and his reputation for delivering eloquent and poignant observations on themes throughout art history and contemporary theory. Not coincidentally, we stock a couple of his most influential texts, Return of the Real and Design and Crime (And Other Diatribes).
The art critic-historian is backed by an impressive list of credentials. Having written and edited a number of publications and journals including Artforum, Art in America, and October, Foster has also worked with the Whitney Museum, Cornell and now Princeton University. Throughout, his research focuses on themes of the avant-garde within the context of postmodernism and the contemporary arena.
Return of the Real, published in 1996, is among one of Foster's first crucial publications. Here, he follows the progression of art and theory after the 1960's, considering pre and postwar notions of the avant-garde alongside different qualities of modernism. Ultimately he argues that we reexamine the innovative practices of the avant-garde in order to face the cultural unravelling that is commonplace today.
Foster references the work of artists from Picasso and Duchamp to Warhol and Koons, beginning with a more historical account and concluding with his impressions of current contemporary practices in not only art and theory, but also culture and politics.
Recently I've added Desgin and Crime (And Other Diatribes) to my personal collection at home. Only a few pages in, and Foster lays out a direct and decisive structure to his analysis. The title of this work is a play on Adolf Loos' Ornament and Crime (1908), an essay which condemned the proliferation of ornamentation at a time when Art Nouveau was at its peak. Similarly, Foster is taking a look at the trends and crossovers in culture and architecture, but here he is taking a critical stance on the aesthetics of design.
In particular he is looking at the cultural changes that privilege architecture above art and criticism. Broken up in to parts, the first half of Design and Crime discusses the joining of the market and culture and the osmosis of design as a regular part of everyday life. Branding of identity and design's link to production/consumption becomes a framework to relate cultural practices to contemporary social and technological conditions. It is in this first part that Foster also reviews the writing of Rem Koolhaas and the buildings of Frank Gehry. The second half of the book directs the established framework from Part I to examine the relationship between cultural disciplines and their respective institutions alongside the rise and fall of art criticism in the U.S. during the twentieth century.
In both books, Foster's words are relevant and are in conversation with issues in philosophy, anthropology, art criticism and sociology. A confident recommendation for former readers of works in the like of Walter Benjamin and Rosalind Krauss.